Quest

The Blurb

Sylvalla escapes Avondale castle and the life of a princess, in search of the adventure she’s always wanted – but once found, adventure bites back.

Fortunately, she is not alone. Unfortunately, her new-found companions are less than heroic. Jonathan would rather make money. Dirk would rather live a long and happy life. And at 150, old Capro would rather stop gallivanting, and harangue unsuspecting wizardry students about his glory days over a nice cup of tea.

What the Reviewers Say

“Reminiscent of The Princess Bride. Felicity Murray, The Read

Move over Terry Pratchett What a brilliant read! The wit! I really enjoyed the story and the characters, but I LOVED the humour and clever prose. Highly recommend” Galaxie, Amazon

“This was a fun and quirky story. Set in the style of Terry Pratchett, the humor was great. It turns fantasy cliches on their head.” The Qwillery

“Fantasy humor with a Pythonesque flair” Guy Worthey, Amazon

“YA science fiction and fantasy specialist, AJ Ponder, has done it again, this time with a story that is less science than her Lily Lionheart and Frankie Files titles and less interactive fiction than her Attack of the Giant Bugs adventure. Instead, Ponder has given us a narrative that is all fantasy (with a bit of alchemy thrown in). QUEST, the first book in Ponder’s Sylvalla Chronicles, is an irreverent and laugh-out-loud spoof on traditional fantasy in the vein of The Princess Bride.” Lee Murray, SpecFicNZ

Quest is for everyone who loves fantasy, adventure, humour, and something slightly different. It is a wonderful book, unlike any I have read before. I thoroughly recommend it. However, be careful: if you go out looking for adventure and it finds you, you’d better be prepared.” Denika Mead, Hooked on Books

“The writing is magnificent. This book is made for reading aloud, it fair rollicks along, a huge vocabulary with marvellous character drawings, funny dialogue and conversations. The best parts though, to encourage fully engaged adult interaction with child, are the footnotes the author has made which are really for adult eyes only. Funny, wicked and sometimes a bit naughty. There is no happy living after in this story either! No handsome prince, no evil witch. So the traditional fairy tale is turned on its head, and I hope to see more of Syvalla’s adventures, because she is well set up to take on more baddies. Felicity Murray, The Read


Read an Extract of “Quest”

The Birthday Party

Light pushed its way through the shutters and fought a torrid, losing battle with the dust in the old wizard’s attic. Outside was brilliant sunshine. Inside, the small beams barely illuminated Mr Goodfellow Senior and his son, Jonathan, on this, the old wizard’s 150th birthday.

Mr Goodfellow Senior looked pretty good for his age. His hair had long since turned white, his wizard’s cloak had seen better days, but piercing eyes flashed over his beak-like nose, and his old bones moved around the cluttered attic with the spryness of a much younger man. He chortled as he poured saltpetre and other dangerous chemicals into little cylinders.

Jonathan looked suspiciously at the half-filled squib in his hand. Making fireworks wasn’t his idea of fun. It was not something ordinary people did, and Jonathan worked very hard at being ordinary. He also tried his best to be a dutiful son—he’d missed several excellent money-making opportunities to be here today—but did his father appreciate it? No. His father had begun one of his endless rants about magic …

“The problem with any endeavour is that you must begin at the beginning, and sometimes the beginning isn’t as exciting as the middle or the end. That is the way of things. It takes time to learn to read, it takes time to learn an instrument and it takes time to become—”

“A charlatan,” Jonathan burst in, sick of the smell of sulphur and phosphorous, and tired of the expectation that would throw away a growing business to follow in his father’s footsteps as a demented butcher with delusions of wizardry. Most of all, he was sick and tired of this one-sided conversation.

“How dare you!” Mr Goodfellow Senior roared. “I am a wizard of the—”

“By the seven gods, Capro!” Jonathan roared back, his fist thumping the table, scattering potions and flasks and little piles of powder. “There is no such thing as magic.”

As if to deny his words, a firecracker rocketed upward, streaming pink and blue sparks before ricocheting off the ceiling and exploding in a shower of butterflies. Jonathan ducked for cover as they swirled around the room, their rainbow wings turning to ash wherever they landed.

Mr Goodfellow Senior glared, his eyes burning fiercely between strands of white hair, his mouth opening and shutting in pure outrage.

It took a while for Jonathan to realise it wasn’t the blasphemy, his careless fist, or even the explosion that had made his old man so angry. Jonathan had uttered a forbidden word: Capro.

“Don’t ever call me that again, young whippersnapper. Don’t ever call me by my first name. It ain’t right. I’ve told you and told you. But do I ever get your respect? No! All talent and no patience. Forget it. Just go. It’s not like I haven’t had enough birthdays. No need to make a big fuss over this one.”

Jonathan attempted to straighten his tunic and wipe the soot from his face. “Um. Sorry.”

“Why won’t you just toe the line and take up the family business?” Mr Goodfellow Senior asked. “It’s got a long and revered tradition. It’s the stuff that—oh, frag it …” The old man trailed off, his voice deliberately thin. “Nobody cares about magic anymore.” Then, as he always did in times like this, he pulled out an old worn stone and caressed it. “I don’t know why you fight so hard. Magic is power, son.”

“No.” Jonathan sighed. “For the last time, Father. I’m not wasting my life on this nonsense. I’ve got a career, a booming business. Contingency.” He patted his gold-filled pocket. “All you’ve got is the clinging stench of old meat and a large tax bill chasing you.”

“Keeps me fit, boy.”

Jonathan raised an eyebrow. What he saw was a bag of skin and bones held together by wrinkles. Someone who couldn’t make money out of his beloved career and had to resort to butchery to make ends meet.

The old wizard sighed. “Look, boy, you’re thirty—almost an adult. It’s about time you started living up to your potential.”

“I’ve been an adult for sixteen years, I run my own business—”

“Grow up!”

“Hellfire and damnation, I am grown up. It’s not my fault you’re a hundred years out of date. There’s no place for wizards in the modern world. Half the towns I go to would string me up at the first hint of magic. Anyway, I’ve got places to be and the miles don’t get any shorter standing around here, playing with firecrackers.”

“Ignorant fool! Don’t come looking to me the next time you hit trouble.” Mr Goodfellow Senior turned away, arms crossed.

Jonathan sighed. Again. Retrieved his battered hat and made for the door. He didn’t know what to make of his old man’s delusions. Being a wizard didn’t make gold pieces—not when anybody could make Granny’s Special Cure All.

Mr Goodfellow Senior almost retorted: that’s what you think, boy, I know many ways to really eat up the miles, but you’re not ready for them. You can only manage Cure All, and you don’t even realise it’s magic.

Unfortunately, nobody appreciates a mind reader, so Mr Goodfellow Senior bit his tongue and kept on biting it, as Jonathan grabbed his broad-brimmed trader’s hat and slammed the door, swearing under his breath never to return ever, ever again.

As he watched his son disappear down the street, Mr Goodfellow Senior contemplated that it hadn’t been much of a birthday. Jonathan was just too wayward. Always had been. Besides, the lad was right, the world had changed. The old wizard could smell it. The world had become a darker, more dangerous place for magic users, and Jonathan, for all his protestations, was a wizard. He couldn’t hide it forever, not even from himself. Time was all he needed.

But there was no time. Trouble was coming, and Jonathan’s untrained talent attracted danger to himself, and anyone near him, like giant moths to a candle.

Mr Goodfellow Senior poured himself a cup of tea, and as an afterthought, poured another for his absent son.

Jonathan didn’t come back, and when the old wizard went to empty the cup, a fruit fly was struggling in the amber liquid.

It was not a good sign.

Mr Goodfellow Senior

NAME:      Capro Goodfellow.

CLASS:      Less.

FAMILIAR:          With some of the less savoury additions that will help your steak and kidney pie go a little further.

SPECIALTY:         Living. 150 years of it.

RÉSUMÉ: Has run several businesses in the meat line, all of which unaccountably went bust at the first hint of a tax collector. There’s speculation that the old man is a wizard due to his making of fireworks and the loud noises that often emanate from his rooms. Of course, these are rumours designed to scare small children and should not be taken seriously. After all, what true magician would stoop to selling Granny’s Special Cure All?

As a child, Mr Goodfellow Senior’s son, Jonathan, taunted a certain Dirk—a well-known and infamously temperamental swordsman—and disappeared shortly before his fifteenth birthday. Nobody was surprised.

Despite expectations to the contrary, Jonathan turned up a few years later having established a career in sales—in a very distant part of the country. He now travels the length and breadth of the realm, hawking everything from ointments to jewellery. From time to time, Mr Goodfellow Senior is asked by a desperate mother to intercede with the temperamental swordsman. The only advice he’s ever given is: tell them to run like Hades and never look back.

PASSED:   Unknown. Did they even have exams in his day?

Mr Goodfellow Senior rescued the fly and looked deep into the tea, searching for a vision just beneath the surface. He was about to give up in disgust when a flake of saltpetre drifted into the amber liquid.

The tea rippled.

Mr Goodfellow Senior gripped the table.

The dark liquid bubbled and steamed. A face coalesced from its seething depths and crested the surface. It had a hooked nose, lank black hair and storm-cloud eyes.

Startled, he rocked the table and the image shattered.

Pressing his wrinkled knuckles into his forehead, the old wizard took a deep breath and looked deeper …

This time a girl’s face swam into view. Not just any girl; a princess, about eight years old. Her frilly blue dress matched her eyes, and a diamond tiara perched on golden hair. Instantly, he realised she wasn’t a typical princess. For a start, she was practising sword fighting with a small class of noble-born boys. Her dress was ripped in several places, and her diamond tiara threatened to slide off. Even so, her fierce determination put the boys to shame as she laid about them with her training stick.

A woman entered the room, ushering in half a dozen servants. The girl exploded with the fury of a wildcat, until, surrounded, she was dragged away kicking and screaming—her diamond tiara falling unnoticed to the floor.

The scene slid, time passed in the vision and the girl grew strong and wiry, her sword ever within grasp. Strange that the princess’ parents had not yet stamped out the unruly and unbecoming behaviour—no doubt the royal couple were still reeling from the fact that they had created a girl, let alone a girl with such dangerous determination and a pointed dislike of sitting still.

The vision faded.

Mr Goodfellow Senior cautiously searched for the wizard he’d seen earlier, focusing his efforts on finding a younger, less dangerous version. A young boy’s face wavered and swam into view, his bottom lip trembling, his eyes wide with either fear or anger as a man and woman, their mouths set in thin lines, thrust him into the iron grip of the Fairly University gatekeeper.

Across the muddy ruts of a deserted courtyard loomed a hideous brick monstrosity, half tumbled down and covered with weeds and creepers, and surrounded by iron bars.

Finding himself on the wrong side of those bars, the young wizard stared disconsolately at his new home. His bare feet oozed through the mud, before he climbed up to the doorstep and peered into the gloom.

Mr Goodfellow Senior wrinkled his nose in consternation and tried to ignore the smell of dampness and body odour, overlaid by the lingering and all-too-potent smell of overcooked cabbage. Behind its drab façade, the inside of the building was mustier and less attractive than the exterior suggested.

Yet this is where the young wizard lived for many years—studying the ancient texts while the other boys gambolled in the university gardens.

The boy started reading some of the simpler volumes written in the ancient tongue. Children’s books, mostly. But there was one truly remarkable tome. A treasure, riddled with bookworms and delicate enough to crumble under careless fingers, it was older than anything Mr Goodfellow Senior had ever seen. Its uniform writing could only have been crafted by magic, and on its faded green cover it bore but a single word, Biology.

Mr Goodfellow Senior barely noticed the transformation as the brooding young man pored over the book with a feverish intensity, fascinated by the marvels flickering tantalisingly out of reach. Small changes of physique blurred over time, until suddenly the boy had grown into a man. Or more accurately, a wizard.

Time slowed. The young wizard stopped. His hand hovered in the air, his small eyes strained over his prominently crooked nose, his body poised as if on the verge of a great discovery.

Mr Goodfellow Senior leaned over, his nose almost in the cup. What was it the boy intended as he sat at his small table consulting a marked passage in the book with such burning fervour? He couldn’t be planning to revive a beast of old—could he?

Recreating such dangerous magic was far beyond the rules of acceptable wizardry, but the temptation was overwhelming; Capro Goodfellow could feel it even through the vision. He could clearly see the words on the man’s silent lips, and catch the glint of an eye, as the young wizard plucked a lizard from a fold in his robe.

“Sphenodontidae! Hatteria punctata.”

The young wizard stopped, his lips closed, his chest expanded.

“Stop,” Capro Goodfellow breathed, knowing there was nothing he could do.

The young wizard stretched his palm over the book. “Make—it—so,” he said, clear as a bell. The lizard rippled and became—something else. Something wrong. It turned to stare at Mr Goodfellow Senior. No longer a harmless beast, its nearest black eye reflected a face it could not possibly see.

Capro Goodfellow startled, almost losing the vision. He clutched at the cup with both hands, more determined than ever to see what would happen next.

A flash of magical fire lit the surface of the tea. The suddenly-hot cup shattered in his burning hands, spraying scalding-hot tea all over the table.

Mr Goodfellow Senior stared at the mess in horror. There, scattered across the table, the tea leaves had formed the word:

Quest.

Mr Goodfellow Senior reeled back in horror.

A Quest?

He tried to put his fractured visions together in his mind: an evil wizard, a fighting princess. Maybe a questing princess? And somehow his boy, Jonathan, was mixed up with them. That was bad enough, but more than that, the magical fire worried Mr Goodfellow Senior. Traditionally, fire was the sign of dragons and power untamed.

A word came to his lips—and remained unspoken—Asumgeld. For one hundred and twenty-five years, Capro had tried never to think of her. For one hundred and twenty-five years, he’d avoided the fate of his fellow dragon-hunters…